With two rounds of the National Rugby Championship left to play for 2019, there is still so much of the competition to play out with the top four still a long way from being settled.
And while all games are important, some are slightly more important than others. Let’s take a look at a couple of key games over the next fortnight.
Melbourne v Fiji: With both sides locked on nine points, this match will determine which of the two sides can remain a mathematical chance of finishing inside the top four heading into the final round next weekend.
With two wins on the trot to hoist the wet sail, the Rising will have the home ground advantage for this match, though with a large Fijian rugby community in southeastern Melbourne it’s debatable whether all the support will be for the home side.
Melbourne have been really impressive to record wins over Queensland Country and Sydney in consecutive weeks, and where points seemed hard to come by over the first three games, the Rising have now posted 99 points in two matches.
The Drua enjoyed a big win at home over Sydney in Round 4 but came back to earth with a heavy loss to the Vikings in Canberra last weekend.
Both teams sit less than a win outside the top four, so simply must win to stay in touch for the final round.
Queensland Country v NSW Country: The battle of the country cousins is always a ripping affair and this one at Bond University on Sunday will be no different after both sides recorded impressive wins last week, over Brisbane City and the previously unbeaten Western Force, respectively.
Queensland Country sit two points behind the fourth-placed Brisbane City, so a win is crucial to at least start applying scoreboard pressure on their Ballymore colleagues, who also feature in a key match this weekend.
NSW Country jumped back into second on the NRC table with that gutsy 38-24 win over the Force in Port Macquarie on the weekend and remain four points adrift of the West Australians.
A win for the Eagles will keep them in the hunt for a top two finish and a home semi-final, while a bonus point win would also ensure they keep their nose in front of Canberra, who also have serious designs on second.
Western Force v Brisbane City: The Force are back in their happy place, returning home to their UWA Sports Park stronghold to play in front of a vocal crowd more than willing to cheer their side home to the NRC minor premiership.
Last week’s loss to NSW Country didn’t actually hurt the Force too much; they maintained their four-point lead on top of the table and a win over City this weekend will go a long way toward securing top spot.
And think about this: Perth Spirit and the Western Force have contested four of the five National Rugby Championship finals series but have never hosted a final in Perth. That surely changes this year.
City will be stinging from the loss to Queensland Country in the Andy Purcell Cup clash last weekend, and now leave themselves vulnerable to being overtaken by their closest rivals.
Canberra v NSW Country: This is a game in Canberra next Friday night that has been looming for several weeks now, and it only becomes more and more important with every set of results each round.
Simply put, this match will quite probably decide who finishes in second spot and claims the remaining home semi-final advantage which has always been so important throughout the NRC.
Furthermore, it’s not out of the question that these two teams could meet again in said semi-final, so a win in the final round won’t just reward them with a home semi but all the momentum as well.
There are a number of other permutations still in place too and it’s entirely possible that this game could see the two teams playing for first overall.
Knowing this game is coming actually makes winning their respective games this weekend all the more important for both the Eagles and Vikings.
Others: Depending on who wins out of Melbourne and Fiji this weekend, the winner’s subsequent game next weekend becomes an ‘all in’ match with mathematical hope of final qualification still in play.
Fiji host Queensland Country in Sigatoka next Saturday, while Melbourne face Brisbane City in Brisbane.
Depending on this weekend’s results, whichever team is still alive of the Drua and Rising could quite possibly be playing off for fourth place.
It all shapes as a thrilling conclusion that what has been a thoroughly enjoyable sixth NRC season.